The Yankees Need To Change Their Organizational Philosophy To Return To Glory
For an eleventh consecutive season, the New York Yankees will not be World Series champions. For an eleventh consecutive season, the Yankees won't even be AL Champions. For an organization that prides itself on championships, they have now fallen short of that goal for 11 straight years. The Steinbrenner mantra has always been that anything short of winning the World Series is a failure. So despite all their wins and playoff appearances, there's only one way to describe the past eleven seasons: a failure.
As the days pass since the Yankees were eliminated, many fans and people in the media will have their own ideas on how to fix the team. Fire Cashman. Fire Boone. Trade Gary. Sign Trevor Bauer. Sign JT Realmuto. Blow up the core and rebuild. Etc. Everyone has their own masterplan. But I think the only way for the Yankees to truly improve and get back to their winning ways is to take a serious look inward at their entire organizational philosophy and change it. I'm going to essentially be an old man yelling at a cloud for this blog. I sort of want the Yankees to go back to the Stone Ages. I am tired of the Yankees thinking they're the smartest organization in baseball and trying to use their analytics to outsmart everyone. They have to get back to just playing baseball. Paul O'Neill said it best on the YES postgame after they were eliminated.
Now, it's foolish to completely dismiss analytics. Analytics, at its core, is essentially just information. There's more information available about baseball players than ever before. Almost every little part of a player's game is able to be quantified, down to their hand placement and launch angle on a swing. In theory, this should be great. The more information an organization has, the better they can be at making decisions. And that has certainly been true in some cases. It's wrong to just dismiss analytics as a bunch of fancy jargon and think that it prevents a team from winning. The Yankees have been one of the most analytical teams in baseball recently, and they have been successful despite not winning the World Series. They've reached the playoffs in four straight seasons and have a .599 winning percentage in that span. The use of analytics has also helped them unearth gems such as Luke Voit, Gio Urshela, Mike Tauchman, and others. Not too shabby. But also not good enough.
To completely abandon analytics would be stupid. People will say "The Rays are literally the most analytical team in baseball and they just knocked the Yankees out." The Astros also embraced analytics (and cheating) to turn their franchise around. But the Yankees aren't the god damn Tampa Bay Rays. Every franchise can follow their own path to glory. The Royals were like a 1920s team in 2015 with their contact hitting and small ball. The Yankees need to figure out what works best for them, and the current philosophy obviously isn't it.
When I say the Yankees need to return to the Stone Ages, I am being somewhat tongue-in-cheek. However, I do think it would be foolish of Brian Cashman and the rest of the front office to not look inward at their own shortcomings. The bottom line is that the Yankees have not been able to put together a championship team for 11 seasons. It's one of the longest droughts in franchise history. Obviously the game is different now than it was in the 1940s and there's a lot more parity, but it's still unacceptable.
Using advanced stats to find players other teams don't value (Voit, Urshela) has been successful and should continue. But letting analytics dictate in-game decisions has to stop. Look at Game 2 of the ALDS. The Yankees tried to out-Ray the Rays by pitching righty Deivi Garcia for an inning and then bringing in lefty JA Happ to mess with their platoons. The Rays structured their lineup to prepare for this, however, and it backfired tremendously. Would the results have been different if the Yankees just committed to starting one of them? Maybe not. But both guys had solid years as starters. Garcia's 4.98 ERA does not describe how well he pitched. And JA Happ ended up being a reliable starter down the stretch for the Yankees. Give one of them the ball and say "It's your game." The decision to get cute was way overthinking things. Blame Cashman. Blame Boone. Blame whoever you want. It was an organizational failure.
Another huge mistake was pinch hitting Mike Ford for Kyle Higashioka in the 8th inning of Game 5. The Yankees reasoning will be that Ford is a power hitting lefty who hits hard throwing righties well. Look, I love Ford and he's certainly capable of hitting the long ball, but he did hit .135 this season. You had Clint Frazier on the bench. I don't care that he's a righty, he had a great year and hits the ball. Give him a chance in that spot despite what the analytics tell you about righty/lefty matchups.
All season long, the Yankees lacked fundamentals. They were bad defensively. They hit .247 as a team. They didn't execute a successful SAC bunt until the last week of the season. They were extremely reliant on the long ball. Hitting home runs is great. Look at that Toronto series were they mashed the baseball game after game. But not being able to score consistently without home runs becomes a problem in the playoffs when you're facing elite pitching. It's been the underlying theme of the Yankees playoff failures for a decade now.
This is when I'm going to start sounding like an 85-year-old newspaper beat writer for the Kansas City Royals. Hit for average. Put the ball in play. Hit line drives. Move runners over. Don't swing for the fences every at bat. Good pitching always beats good hitting. Learn how to beat good pitching. That's how the Yankees were able to build a dynasty in the late 1990s.
I am so god damn sick of hearing about On Base Percentage as the end all, be all. Aaron Hicks had a .379 OBP this season but a .225 average. He was still their #3 hitter. He did have a good postseason, but your #3 hitter cannot be hitting .225. 40% of Hicks' 211 PAs this season resulted in a walk, strikeout, or home run. I think a 3-hitter has to hit for a higher average and put the ball in play more. A walk is not as good a single. A walk doesn't score a runner from second. A walk doesn't score a runner from third. A walk can't advance a runner from first to third. A single is always better than a walk. Putting the ball in play and trying to make something happen is always better than striking out. The Yankees have way too many hitters who rely on one of the three true outcomes: home run, walk, or strikeout. I want more DJ LeMahieus. I want more Gio Urshelas. I hate to give them credit, but the 2018 Red Sox were maybe the best offense I've ever seen. They had a ton of guys who hit the ball and kept the line moving. They led the AL in average and OBP, while striking out the 4th least in the AL. I want an offense like that.
I don't think Cashman should be fired. I like stability and he has done a very good job building a talented roster and finding random guys who become stars. But again, I think he has to maybe put his ego aside a bit and seriously consider changing how the front office operates. I do think Aaron Boone has to go. I want a manager who can manage the game himself and rely on his eyes and gut to make in-game decisions. The Yankees have to stop managing the game before it starts and laying out a plan of, "This pitcher can't see the order for a third time. This guy has to only come in to face a lefty. This guy gets 2 PAs and then we're pulling him for defense." If you don't trust Aaron Boone to be that guy who can adjust on the fly, and I don't, then it's time to move on. Buck Showalter is the popular name being thrown out for a possible replacement. I like that name, but I'm sure there are others out there as well.
And for the love of God, get someone who isn't going to baby his players and can admit this season was a failure.
That video made me want to puke.
As we wind down here, my biggest problem with analytics was put best by Big Ev on The Short Porch the other day. They're a cop out. For any bad decision or thing that goes wrong, the Yankees just throw their hands up, "Welp, the numbers said it was the right move." Have a spine. I'm very close to saying we just hire the old guy scouts from Moneyball. Less numbers. More talk about how a guy's ugly girlfriend can hurt him on the field.
Overall, it's clear something needs to change if the Yankees are going to finally bring a championship back to the Bronx.
We talked about all this and more on our latest podcast. You can listen here.